The Big Local

When you think of local search marketing, what type of business comes to mind?

If you’re like most people, you probably think of a small, local service organization or retail shop. The pizza place near your home, electricians or plumbers in your city or town, maybe even a bed-and-breakfast run by a local family.

It may be time to broaden your perspective.

Local Search Isn’t Just for Local Businesses

It’s true that local searches often correspond to local businesses. When you’re looking for a specific, locally owned and operated business, there’s nothing better than finding exactly what you seek on a search engine results page. But the overall marketing opportunity local search presents is much, much larger than this.

Big companies looking to strengthen their brands and leverage the Internet’s power are increasingly aware of local search’s benefits. A few scenarios that illustrate this:

  • Ever been on a trip and looked for a Starbucks close to your hotel?
  • Ever needed directions to an AMC Theatre in another town?
  • Maybe your windshield’s cracked and a friend recommends Safelite AutoGlass?

Common situations such as these often result in a local online search.

Starbucks. AMC. Safelite. Not exactly small companies, are they? It’s no secret these firms spend a lot of time and money building their brands and running national (and international) ad campaigns. Yet savvy marketers at large corporations are starting to realize they can reach local customers in a new way — a very relevant and helpful way.

National Brands: Local Experiences

Starbucks is one of the world’s most powerful brands, yet when you walk into a store, order your grande nonfat latte, purchase a CD, and sit down on the couch, it’s very much a local experience, isn’t it? People experience the brand one cup of coffee at a time. Your opinion of Starbucks is far more influenced by your experience in that store at that moment than by any ad campaign, online or off-.

So consumers interact with brands locally. That’s nothing new. Here’s the piece many marketers are still missing: A person’s local experience could easily begin before he walks in the door. It may begin online on a search engine. Customers may be searching for local businesses at home, at work, or from a mobile device.

The Starbucks Example

Just this week I saw Starbuck’s back-to-school campaign (co-marketed with Visa). When you purchase a $50 Starbucks card using Visa, you get a $10 bonus card.” I saw banner ads, search ads, and content-targeted ads across the Web. Safe to say it’s a pretty robust campaign.

Then I went to Google Maps and searched for a Starbucks store in several college towns. I searched Boulder, CO; Austin, TX; Madison, WI; and Boston, MA. Sure enough, the back-to-school ad was listed as a Sponsored Link on the left side of the local map page. Brilliant targeting? Perhaps. More likely, it was the result of a large budget. Turns out the ad was listed on any Google Maps page if Starbucks was included in the search query. Still relevant, nonetheless.

Let’s recap this local search experience: I’m searching for a Starbucks in my college town. I can view all store locations on a street map, a satellite map, or a combination map. I can zoom in and out. I can select my desired store and get the address, driving directions, phone number, and customer reviews. I can send all this information to a friend in an e-mail. I can even send driving directions to my cell phone and click on a Starbucks back-to-school ad — all from the same local interface. Not bad, huh? And, amazingly more robust and flexible than flipping through the yellow pages.

But wait, it gets better. Google recently announced the addition of a new local couponing feature, meaning Starbucks could also provide coupons, printable right from the map and redeemable in select college town stores (no, not those coupons. (More on this in a future column).

Don’t Miss the Power of Local

Yet given all this, big-brand marketers continue to dedicate nearly all their budgets to TV, radio, print, outdoor, and direct mail. It’s a shortsighted strategy because raising awareness using traditional channels causes today’s consumer to go online and — you guessed it — search. Marketers must close this loop and follow their customers online. Take advantage of this highly focused, highly relevant way to reach people online: the local search experience.

Hey, big brands. Wake up and smell the coffee!

Meet Patricia at Search Engine Strategies Local in Denver, CO, September28, at the Adam’s Mark Hotel.

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